HOW FALSE AND MISLEADING INFORMATION CAN AFFECT OUR HUMAN AND SPIRITUAL EXPERIENCE
Hi Guys. In this November 2021 blog (Issue 23), I contemplate the subject of ‘How false and misleading information can affect our human and spiritual experience’. To be more precise, I will look at truth in fact and spiritual truth. I have covered some of these elements previously in blog post issues 11 and 15. This post will be a consolidation of those posts with some new material.
As in my previous blogs, I will draw on the views and opinions of past and current masters, sages, mystics, gurus, philosophers and generally wise people. I also tap into all the worldly belief systems, religions and philosophies to draw on ancient knowledge and wisdom. These blog posts are designed for those interested in mindfulness/spirituality and will only give you a taste of the information, knowledge and wisdom that is out there (and all points raised can easily be further researched).
Political and social unease exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic have overtaken our lives. Normal existence has been changed forever and there appears to be a pall of collective fear hovering over every aspect of our current lives. In times such as these, it is more important to be as discerning as you can in determining if information can be relied on in order to make relevant choices or decisions about our wellbeing.
To be more discerning about looking at truth in fact, using logic, clear thinking and reason may also help you in determining or intuiting what might be spiritual truth to you. Once you start asking yourself (or others) about the big questions of existence i.e. why are we here? is this the real life or just fantasy? what is consciousness etc? - you are ready consume the vast array of information/knowledge about spirituality.
Truth, as defined in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary includes: ‘a judgment, proposition, or idea that is true or accepted as true’ and: the property (as of a statement) of being in accord with fact or reality. See link at https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/truth
In recent times, we have been used to the phrase ‘fake news’ which in essence could be called propaganda (i.e. such devices used by populists, demagogues, politicians, dictators and anyone who wishes to persuade without using an element of truth in fact). How do you resist ‘fake news’ or propaganda? A lot of people can instantly recognise misinformation and can use their so-called ‘bullshit’ meter to detect it! They, perhaps, have got used to it and more easily engage a fact checking mechanism.
However, a lot of people, for whatever reason, simply cannot do this, and the ‘fake news’ or propaganda may be particularly appealing to their long-held beliefs. Whilst there is a larger debate, the implications of recent US events (i.e. storming of the Congress building), alarming as it was, could easily affect any modern democracy.
Notwithstanding any spiritual position, in an age of alternative facts (i.e. rumour, conspiracy, propaganda or the repetition of a lie), how do you work out what is a fact and what is not? There is so much over-stimulus and so many sensory overloads battering us through various media at the moment.
We are firmly settled into the internet age and social media, such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook have featured largely in recent events which have highlighted the sinister use of computer programming algorithms on these platforms.
What is an algorithm? Social media algorithms are a way of sorting posts in a users' feed based on relevancy instead of publish time. Social networks prioritize which content a user sees in their feed first by the likelihood that they'll actually want to see it (i.e. as in the user previously viewing such items or posts). ... In short, the newest posts from accounts a user followed shows up first. https://sproutsocial.com/insights/social-media-algorithms/
During early October this year, damning testimony emerged in the US Congress from former Facebook employee Frances Haugen who also shared files with the Wall Street Journal (since mid-September). The documents and testimony confirm that Facebook and its family of products are damaging to society and individuals. “The choices being made inside of Facebook are disastrous for our children, for our public safety, for our privacy and for our democracy” – (Facebook) “repeatedly encounter conflicts between its own profits and our safety [and] consistently resolve these conflicts in favour of its own profits. Haugen said in her testimony.
In late 2020, these aspects also came to light regarding the comments of Mr Tim Kendall, former Facebook Director, during testimony before the US Congress, House Consumer Protection and Commerce Sub-committee, published on 25 September 2020. Mr Kendall accused Facebook of building algorithms that have facilitated the spread of misinformation, encouraged divisive rhetoric and laid the groundwork for a ‘mental health crisis’. He said, “we took a page from Big Tobacco’s playbook, working to make our offering addictive at the outset.” He went on to say, among other things, “these algorithms have brought out the worst in us. They have literally rewired our brains so that we are detached from reality and immersed in tribalism.”
In this context, social media has recently been widely reported on and written about regarding it containing - misleading content; false context; fabricated content; imposter content; false connection; manipulated content; satire or parody that is misleading. Also, check out the comments from the US Surgeon General on COVID misinformation. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2021/07/15/1016013826/the-u-s-surgeon-general-is-calling-covid-19-misinformation-an-urgent-threat
In this regard, see a recent interview with prominent US conservative pollster Frank Luntz warning against the kind of toxic politics that has damaged America. He said, “We should be the shining light and instead we’re a shit show and I’m a part of that shit show and I have been for the last 20 years. He says the way to fix America could be out of reach. “Social media’s what allows the polarisation to occur. If you fix social media you fix America, but our culture won’t allow it and perhaps it’s correct,” he said, noting the fierce protection Americans have for the first amendment which states “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech.” “but it’s poisoning our minds, it’s an acid, it genuinely is toxic, it’s dividing us, it’s killing our ability to reason and most importantly were being fed 24/7 what we already believe and that’s the problem,” he said.
It is widely suggested that fake news and propaganda is more harmful in this age of social media algorithms and can easily be labelled as fraud and deception. Also, given the fact that it cannot only change your opinion, but can ‘brainwash’ you, cause mass hysteria and literally drag you from your armchair into extreme, unhelpful egoic inspired emotions, can also cause radicalisation leading to violence to others, as we have seen in the USA recently, and constantly unfolding around the world, where people’s way of life is under assault.
Eastern and western philosophy can provide us with some answers to the dangerous allure of populism, patriotism, nationalism, tribalism and modern demagoguery (and just plain old ignorance). In this regard, Greek philosophy (mainly Aristotle and Plato) gives us the word ‘nous’ as the basic understanding or awareness that allows human beings to think rationally and also for that faculty of the human mind to determine what is true or real.
There is much discussion in the various philosophical works as to how perception operates and there was much argument as to how nous could in fact be more of a spiritual or divine aspect. Plato seemed to suggest that nous simply meant ‘good sense’ but later emphasised that it was of an innate nature, beyond sense perception.
‘Plato’s’ cave is a famous allegory presented in his work, ‘Republic’ and illustrates how people who believe in empirical knowledge (i.e. knowledge gained from experience rather than from innate ideas or deductive reasoning)can be trapped in a ‘cave’ of misunderstanding.
Plato writes about how Socrates described a symbolic narrative where a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all their lives, facing a blank wall. The people watch shadows projected on the wall from objects passing in front of a fire behind them and give names to these shadows. The shadows are, in fact, the prisoners’ reality but obviously are not accurate representations of the real world. One prisoner is supposedly freed from the cave and (long story short) whilst in sunlight sees that what is in the cave is not reality and realises that those in the cave would not necessarily believe him and would want to stay in there. See; https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwj98Yi1vNXzAhWc8XMBHSGGCQgQFnoECAMQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Ffaculty.washington.edu%2Fsmcohen%2F320%2Fcave.htm&usg=AOvVaw2qwJZDdp8d3PKQIYmBEHup
Whilst the Hindu philosophy on Illusion/Appearance (Maya) can be very complicated in relation to the spiritual aspect of life, I think its principles and overall concept can also be applied to understand how you perceive things in the world generally (N.B. the concept is also evident in Sikhism, Jainism and Buddhism).
Maya, as translated, basically means “illusion” or “appearance in the physical world”, which is considered to be a temporary and continually changing, material world. It is the appearance/perception of things differently from what they are actually. It is part of our normal existence and we do not have to be spiritually in tune to notice it.
The Vedic texts describe the universe, and the human experience, as an interplay of the pure, perfect, and complete consciousness manifesting as the Self or Soul (known as Atman) and the changing material world (including nature, known as Prakriti) as Maya.
We perceive everything through our senses, i.e. hearing, touch, sight, taste, smell and through our mind and we all tend to perceive differently. While our senses give us a certain view of the world, this is a paradox to those on the spiritual journey. In our search for inner knowledge of the higher Self, Maya is that which confuses us, mainly through the ego – Maya is considered as unconscious and Atman is conscious.
Depending on how your own personality/nature evolves, you may be ready and curious enough to recognise that you are more than your body or even an identity (i.e. in eastern philosophy the body, as merely a shell, dies but the soul is said to be immortal and can be reborn).
It is said, the ego always wants to be in control and when you start to let undue/extreme attachments or compulsions happen (with circumstances, things and people) then you can be vulnerable to suffering or extreme experience – caused by the ego construct. This could lead to being severely restrained in your life-view and may result in being captured by beliefs/perceptions that you may not have completely worked out by yourself (e.g. those that are basically given to you).
Being caught up in the material world we also might tend to perceive ourselves as different, distinct and unique. This may result from being exposed to ego programming. And, not as individual souls of pure consciousness, being the same as everyone else, but identifying as only beings of minds and physical bodies (i.e. almost all philosophy suggests we are a soul journeying or having an experience in a physical body).
Philosophers throughout the centuries have had differences about what is ‘knowing about something’. A few, talk about, ‘seeing is believing’ as a reality (dating from Greek times), but Eastern Philosophers talk about attaining a higher wisdom (i.e. internal reality - the Self) using the senses and then filtering through what is called the Buddhi (translated from Sanskrit as higher intellect).
To some people, their entire world comprehension is seen through the physical material world, where they feel they have to conform to custom, culture, learned habitual thinking, peer and social pressure and influences from upbringing etc. Without any independent filter they then tend to cycle through ignorance, delusion, self-absorption, negativity, low self-esteem, intense emotions (including, anger and greed) and adopt others’ world views and beliefs.
The ultimate key is to be more aware of what is happening to you and around you, so that you can either accept situations as they unfold or let go of things that are not within your control (and also to be able to dwell in the present moment). To be able to grasp equanimity, not have a strong opinion on everything and to almost be just an observer, is an ideal that Stoic philosophers, for instance, have strived for through the ages.
As in my previous posts, the main part of this ultimate key is to achieve Yoga - a union or mergence and thereby Self-realisation though a process of merging mind, the energy body and soul with the animating life force (consciousness). In other words, the raising and expansion of consciousness from oneself to being connected with everyone and everything. This is the goal of every truth seeker, those consciously on their journey or those who are posing early questions about the meaning of life.
And, whether you have achieved a spiritual ‘aha’ moment and are seeking more awareness or just want to know how to cut through the crap, there has to be a better filter than just your ego and related biases.
Going straight to the heart of things, and in finding the courage to live a better life, there are a number of techniques to help you navigate through illusion and to discern both a practical truth and a spiritual one.
What is a basic fact? It is a thing that is known to have happened or to exist, especially something for which proof exists, or about which there is information.
What is clear thinking? Clear thinking is an ability you can develop regarding expressing your ideas in a straightforward manner. It also involves an approach to recognise and analyse questions or statements that are logically fallacious. There is a need to be inquisitive and to pay attention to every detail, to examine the validity, logic and truthfulness of others’ arguments and claims. https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/science-choice/201803/10-elements-clear-thinking
In terms of logic and the most basic approach, and a starting point of determining the truth of a matter, is by an inductive method. With inductive reasoning, you make observations to reach a conclusion – which brings you to a ‘general truth’, soft truth’ or an ‘educated guess’. Your conclusion may not always be true and may be probable or just be a theory, but it should be reasonable and based on evidence.
The next logical step is to take the general truth or theory and determine it further by the process of deduction (which is a very different approach).
Deductive reasoning (also known as deductive logic) is the process of reasoning from a number of statements (known as premises) to reach a logical conclusion. With this reasoning, the conclusion is necessarily true if the premises are true. So, you can take a valid statement (premise) and following on, in theory: If A=B and B=C, then A=C. Note that the premises have to be valid to prove the conclusion. https://www.livescience.com/21569-deduction-vs-induction.html
As another example, as we might have generally observed, everyone’s senses provide their own unique version of events to a particular incident. This is supremely evident when we read, watch or have experience of criminal matters and the reason why witnesses are cross examined in court.
In that arena the main level of proving something to have a weight towards truth is the concept of proving something beyond a reasonable doubt (also known as the criminal standard of proof – where the starting point is the presumption of innocence in court).
In reality, the main portion of this concept is about being in accord with the rules of evidence (where evidence has to be taken strictly within the rules or it won’t be accepted). It has to be direct evidence where witnesses have usedtheir own senses to observe something and not hearsay (as told by someone else).
In a criminal matter, points of proof include proving the actual behaviour and the state of mind (intention). This proof falls much closer to absolute certainty but if there is a scintilla of doubt then it fails (i.e. is there an alternative explanation to the facts that seem plausible). I will leave it there for you to explore/research further if you require.
A lesser proof is called ‘on the balance of probability’ (also called the civil standard). This is also seen in courts of law as to what the defence only have to prove or rather disprove when up against the criminal standard of proof. Usually, as also seen in Civil Court matters, in can be interpreted in a number of ways but in its simplest form, should the decision maker deem that a version of events is 51% more likely to have occurred than the alternative version, then it meets the standard of proof on the balance of probabilities (but it must be to a comfortable degree and based on very clear and cogent evidence). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burden_of_proof_(law)
Intuition is also a really interesting proposition. It is defined as direct perception of truth or facts independent of any reasoning process, concerning an immediate apprehension. It is very difficult to explain but is more of a direct knowing or inner knowing without thinking it through. It is commonly referred to as a gut feeling, a hunch or thinking with your heart. It is said to be something that can be developed and is part of the mystery of life. Whether you use it as a guide or as an addition to the previous concepts discussed is for you to determine. Check out following link on why you should listen to your personal guidance system (PGS).
Biases are also something that we should perhaps be aware of (including unconscious bias). A bias is said to be an inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair. Recent research indicates; “that it appears that our biases are shaped by how we are brought up, what we see around us and the media we are exposed to. Knowing we can change their influence also means we can no longer shrug them off as beyond our control (see the great article on this and other prejudices in the New Scientist Magazine of 29/8/2020).https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwi0-YaPv9XzAhUP73MBHW5dB94QFnoECAIQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.newscientist.com%2Fissue%2F3297%2F&usg=AOvVaw0MFcWdVsOoNVsN8xdtW5Nx
So, as we can see, there are a number of techniques/approaches to help us conclude whether something is right or wrong.
“There is no truth. There is only perception” – Gustave Flaubert – 1821/1880. - French novelist – leading proponent of literary realism which presented subject matter truthfully.
“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.” & “If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought and action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.” From the Meditations – Marcus Aurelius – 2nd century CE Roman Emperor – Stoic philosopher.
“False opinions are like false money, struck first of all by guilty men and thereafter circulated by honest people who perpetuate the crime without knowing what they are doing”. - Joseph de Maistre – French philosopher – 1753/1821).
“Definition of a fool: Knowing the truth, seeing the truth, but still believing the lies.” Gautama Buddha – ancient India – founder of the world religion of Buddha.
Don’t mistake sensory knowledge (empirical knowledge) for the truth (e.g. a lot of people in the world think like this).
Develop a filter and don’t take anything at face value, don’t assume anything and don’t jump to any conclusions (especially with social media).
It is essential to think clearly, rationalise, reason, use logic and if need be, analyse your long-held beliefs (i.e. you may be held hostage to your Ego which likes to be in control). Catch yourself with your known biases.
Truth is a battlefield – to combat toxicity in society we need to be open and inclusive with a social conscience (freedom with responsibility). As the 18th century Irish politician, John Philpot Curran said, ….” Liberty is eternal vigilance”.
Don’t forget intuition – trust your own instincts when appropriate (Check out your PGS – Personal Guidance System).
Go inwards (consciousness/spirit/soul) to the truth that does not need defending!
Also, try yoga, along with meditation – a natural combination for overall well-being.
Compiled by Baz Shirley.
*See also: bazabstractart.redbubble.com
Instagram: @bazabstractart - Facebook: Barry Shirley
And all my previous posts on: mumbojumbonews.com*